This is a hotly debated topic within lean circles. In this post, I thought I’d jump in the fire and provide my opinion on the topic. In this article, I’ll discuss the following:
- What is a Lean Certification?
- Which organizations provide a Lean Certification?
- Pro: Lean Certification
- Con: Lean Certification
What is a Lean Manufacturing Certification?
A certification, in general, is meant to show proof that the individual has obtained the expected level of experience or knowledge in the field. In other words, a Lean Certification is meant to be proof that the individual has the expected level of knowledge or experience to perform or practice the discipline.
For example, to earn a Lean Certification will require proficiency in the body of knowledge, such as:
- History of the Toyota Production System
- Knowledge of the tools and practices of Lean, such as Standard Work, Kanban, Heijunka, Visual Management, Root Cause Analysis, Poka-Yoke, Value-Stream Mapping, Kaizen, 5S, A3 Problem Solving, Gemba, Genchi Genbutsu, 7 Deadly Wastes, etc.
- Application of Lean, with some hours requirements
Like any certification, a certificate is only as good as the governing body that awards it. So, who provides a “lean certification?”
Which Organizations Provide Lean Certification?
The question of “who” can award or who does award “lean certified” certificates gets a bit confusing. This is also one of the big areas where lean itself has received much criticism. If you do a search on “lean certification”, you’ll see hundreds and hundreds of management consulting organizations that will award you as “lean certified”, for a hefty price. This market for “lean training” or “lean certification” is large, with many potential customers and so that demand was filled by consultancies and others.
There are also not-for-profit organizations that provide lean certifications, such as Society for Manufacturing Engineers, Association for Manufacturing Excellence, and The Shingo Prize for Operational Excellence. These non-for-profit organizations attempt to create a standard work for lean knowledge and lean certification. The Society for Manufacturing Excellence explains:
In 2010, the American Society for Quality (ASQ) joined this collaborative alliance, which truly aligns these leading organizations to a single standard for Lean certification, providing manufacturers and their supply chains with a roadmap for workforce development.
Individual Benefits: Why begin the Lean journey?
- Develop career planning milestones
- Gain a portable, career credential
- Share and gain Lean knowledge through mentoring others
- Align to the Lean knowledge and competency standard
- Attain abilities recognized across the industry
- Develop a portfolio of your experience
Company Benefits: Why have employees begin the Lean journey?
- With an established Lean standard, companies enjoy a clear understanding of the capability of their resources.
- Provides the opportunity for significant training and development.
- Mentoring is a fundamental part of the Lean program, helping to mold new Lean experts
- Standardize Lean practices within organizations, regardless of size or industry
And, aside from not-for-profit organizations and lean consulting firms, companies also have their own internal lean certification requirements. And, of course, the strength of the lean certificaiton will depend on the company and its reputation.
In sum, one can become lean certified in 3 ways:
- Obtain Lean Training and Certification from a Lean Consultancy
- Obtain Lean Training and Certification from a not-for-profit organization (Universities also provide Certification)
- Obtain Lean Training and Certification from a company that has a Lean Program as an employee
Pro: Lean Certification
There are a few good reasons why earning a lean certification makes sense:
- Outside the United States of America, a certificate claiming that you are “lean certified” is meaningful and can be a good way to obtain employment.
- For an organization new to lean manufacturing and don’t have enough knowledge or experience in selecting qualified candidates, they might appeal to a higher governing body to filter out candidates and their experience in lean.
- For the individual, showing that you’ve obtained the standard knowledge and experience in your field might beneficial.
Other than the above, I don’t see any other good reasons for obtaining a lean certification or becoming “lean certified”.
Con: Lean Certification
As I mention above, the strength and credibility of any certification is only as good as the organization that awards it. If my logic is correct, then a certification from a reputable Lean organization will carry some weight.
Here are what I believe to be the negative aspects of a Lean Certification:
- Cash-in on the New-to-Lean Segment: Many people new to Lean will not know which organizations is reputable or not. In this case, they will act based on some Google search for “lean certification” and probably go with the first company in the search results. In that case an unsuspecting and good-intentioned person wishing to learn and upskill himself fell victim search engine optimization tactics from the training or consulting organization. I believe this is a very large market, which is why we see so many of these types of organizations: their target market are the new-to-lean segment and are, for the most part, vulnerable to anybody claiming to know something about lean manufacturing.
- Who is qualified to create a Lean Standard: Mashing together the universities, not-for-profit organizations, and the various consultancies and training groups that provide lean training and lean certification – who is qualified to actually create a lean standard or a lean body of knowledge? As of today, there are many options and sifting through the many credible and non-credible lean training and lean certification organizations is challenging for those new to lean. Unlike a university degree from Harvard or Podunk State College, the individual has at least heard of Harvard. That’s not the case in the Lean Certification world.
- Great Training and Experience, but No Certification: Some very well-known and reputable organizations provide excellent training and experience, but no certification. For example, Toyota doesn’t provide a “certificate” in the Toyota Production System. At least when I was there there wasn’t a certification, but I had a great mentor that provided me with a lot of experience.
Summary on Lean Certification
My personal opinion is this: the most valuable experience and training one can obtain is from a company that has a good lean program and that immerses you in it through experience. Lean training, as in life, is best learned through the School of Hard Knox – from experience. If you belong to an company that provides lean training and experience, then take advantage of it.
If you are new to lean and do not work at a company with an established lean program, then I suggest you start one within your organization. By doing so, you will learn more by doing than by attending training somewhere else. Read good books; take factory tours of established lean organizations; and, network with folks that are in the industry and find a mentor.
If your are outside the United States where a certification is important for obtaining employment, then I suggest you do so from a well-known and established non-for-profit organization.
What’s your opinion on Lean Certifications?